Animals bring joy to young patients at Johns Hopkins

BALTIMORE, Md. (WJLA) - At Johns Hopkins Children's Center, it's not uncommon to see kids playing "Red Light-Green Light" with their special friend Lewis and his owner, Amy Wernecke, and hear lots of giggles.

Lewis is a 4-year-old Chesapeake Bay retriever and certified therapy dog. Once a week, he comes to play or just be petted.

Research is growing about the many benefits of bringing animals into hospitals.

"[It reduces] anxiety, it calms their heart rate, calms their blood pressure ... and just the sheer joy of having something nice happen," explained Jan Jaskulski, the hospital's program coordinator.

"There's just so many different ways that they make a difference, and it's nice to be around people and make people feel better," added Wernecke.

It's clear the pair does just that—and parents of young patients are grateful.

"It's exciting for him, and definitely makes his day," says Jen Wilson, whose son is a patient.

"It's a long day, having chemotherapy treatment, and just blood work all day," agrees mother Heather Baker. "So this is a good way to break up the day and just have some fun. If he's happy, then I'm happy."

And that's what the program is all about—and what makes it a success.

"The human-animal bond is a really strong bond, and I think that's what makes this program what it is," Jaskulski said.

"You know, if I have a bad day, this makes me feel better too," Wernecke added.

For more information on pet therapy, visit National Capital Therapy Dogs, Inc. or Pet Partners.